Stealing Some of Microsoft’s Ad Tech Market Share

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013


When you think of advertising technology in the display space, the first names you’re likely to think of are Google, PubMatic, Adobe, and AppNexus. But Microsoft? Not really top of mind, unless you are thinking of its disastrous aQuantive acquisition in 2007. Sure, every now and then MSFT will pick up the odd Rapt or Yammer, but is it really having a huge impact in the ad tech space? Even if you’re a regular AdExchanger reader, you’d be justified in thinking it’s not.

But you’d be 100% wrong.

Microsoft has been quietly running the inner ad-technology workings of digital display since the first banner ad was purchased in 1995. According to some recent research, the company’s ad-planning software boasts an amazing 76% market share among agency media planners. MediaVisor ranks a distant second with a measly 9.7 Almost nine in 10 planners who use Excel spend more than an hour a day using its software, while almost 35% use it for more than four hours per day[CO1] . [l2]

That software is called Microsoft Excel.

Released in 1985 (originally for Macintosh), Excel is nearly three decades old and has been powering digital-media planning since its inception. Combined with Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint in the Office suite of products, Microsoft tools have been central to the digital-media planning process for a long time. Planners plan in Excel, publishers pitch in Excel and PowerPoint, contracts are made in Word, and everything is communicated via Outlook. And then there are the billing and reconciliation tasks that occur inside spreadsheets. Nobody ever seems to wonder why more than $6 billion in digital display media transactions (representing nearly 70% of all ads sold) use Microsoft tools and the occasional fax machine.

While innovative companies have challenged the dominance of these systems in the past, early efforts fizzled. The complexities of modern digital-media planning, combined with the reluctance of agency planners to change their behavior, have hindered innovation. Looking at past and current “systems of record” for media buying, it’s no wonder planners are scared of change. If you have ever seen legacy agency operating systems, you wonder if a single dollar was ever spent on user experience or user interface design.

Why Programmatic-Direct Planners Use Excel

As an ad technology “evangelist” of sorts, it is my job to show agencies the future of digital-media planning. This is starting to be called programmatic buying, a term which encompasses both “programmatic direct” buying, which targets the transactional RFP business that accounts for the bulk – 70% – of digital display ads, and “programmatic RTB,” which accounts for the impression-by-impression purchases that represent another $2.4 billion, or 25[CO3] % of the pie.

Companies like MediaMath and AppNexus have made the latter category wildly efficient. Buyers don’t use Excel to create an audience-buying campaign across exchange inventory. Instead, they log into a web-based RTB platform.

For automating guaranteed display buys, though, Excel has become the default for media planners, even though if it doesn’t have the features of many web-based systems available. For example, Excel doesn’t track your changes. When planners change something, multiple files are created, and it’s easy for two people to work on a plan at the same time, duplicating work and botching it up. Excel isn’t Sarbanes-Oxley compliant, either. Agencies end up with thousands of Excel sheets on hard drives and servers, and a complicated file versioning and access system that makes replicating and tracking plans really difficult. Excel doesn’t integrate easily with other systems. At the file level, Excel is great. You can import and export Excel files into almost anything. But Excel can’t send out an RFP, or accept an order. Excel can’t automatically set an ad placement inside an ad server like DFA or MediaMind, or get Comscore updates. Excel is amazingly flexible, but it wasn’t built for media planning.

Today, the average digital-media plan costs nearly $40,000 to produce and takes as many as 42 steps to complete. That’s why, according to a recent Digiday survey, more than two thirds of agency employees will leave their jobs within the next two years. Digital-media planning should be fun and innovative, and young, smart people should want to be spending their time influencing how major brands leverage new technologies and media outlets to sell their products.

The reality is that young media planners are finding their days are filled with reconciling monthly invoices and ad delivery numbers. Have you noticed media planners’ eyes glazing over during your latest “lunch and learn?” That’s today’s young agency employees’ way of calling bullshit on ad tech. Our technology has been making their lives harder and their hours longer, rather than ushering in a new era of efficiency and performance.

How We Can Finally Beat Excel

I believe that dynamic is rapidly changing now. Buy-side technologies from innovative software companies, combined with offerings from sell-side players that are plugging into publisher ad servers are creating a programmatic future by building web-based, easy to use, and extensible platforms.Here are a few reasons these types of systems will start to get adoption:

  • Pushback on agency pricing models: Big agencies have been getting paid by the hour for years, but their clients are starting to push back on cost-plus pricing schemes. After exposure to self-service platforms and programmatic buying, they are getting used to seeing a larger percentage of their money applied to the media, and that trend is only likely to continue. Brand advertisers are demanding more efficiency in direct-to-publisher buys, and that means agencies must start to embrace programmatic direct technologies.
  • User interfaces and user experiences are improving: Young people plan media. They are used to really cool web-based technologies, such as Snapchat and Twitter. Today’s platforms not only centralize workflow and data, but increasingly come with something even more critical to gaining user adoption: a nice interface. When we start building tools that people want to use and a user experience that maps to the tasks being performed online, adoption will quickly increase.
  • Prevalence of APIs: Today’s platforms are being built in an open, extensible way that enables linkage with other systems. Since there are so many phases in modern digital media planning (research, planning, buying, ad serving, reporting, billing) it makes sense for platforms to be able to talk to one another. While some legacy APIs are not the best, they are getting better. Servers-to-server integrations make a lot more sense than 23-year-old planners updating spreadsheets. As David Kenny, CEO of The Weather Company, once remarked, “If you are using people to do the work of machines, you are already irrelevant .”

Because of these factors, I expect 2013 will be the year that programmatic direct buying changes from a fun concept for a planners’ “lunch and learn” to a reality. It’s time for us to finally get cracking on stealing some of Microsoft’s ad technology market share.

[This post was originally pushed in AdExchanger]

Sandy update – NextMark is online

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Our thoughts and prayers are with all our customers and their families along the east coast who’ve been impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

This is a quick update to let you know that the NextMark systems are currently online and open for business. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you get back up and running.

The NextMark Team

We’re hiring – Director of Software Engineering – Hanover, NH

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Are you a season web software engineering lead looking for a new challenge? Do you know someone who’s looking? We’re looking for a Director of Software Engineering to lead our products and people to the next level.  Check out the job description here:

UPDATE: This position has been filled.

NextMark Release Paves Way for Digital Media Planning Apps

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Tonight, we will update the NextMark system to version 7.12.  I wanted to highlight a couple of themes related to the improvements included in this release.

First, if you have been following recent NextMark posts, you know we are working on building a database of digital advertising programs along with new apps to improve the digital media planning process.  With the 7.12 release, we are introducing the foundation to enable us to offer multiple applications within a single framework.  While is doesn’t look like much, we’ve added a stripe (see image below) across the top of the application that will eventually be an application switcher.  For now, NextMark users will see an app called Direct Marketing System—which is the name for the current set of capabilities offered under the NextMark brand.

NextMark Application with Stripe

So, what new apps are in the works?  The Digital Media Planner will significantly reduce the amount of time required to create high-quality media plans.  It will also provide access to a growing database of detailed digital advertising programs.  We are also working on Media Magnet, a tool to connect buyers to the digital advertising programs that best match their campaign objectives.

With every release, we aim to increase system stability and usability and 7.12 is no exception.  We’ve addressed more than 20 issues reported by our user community.

One of our ongoing goals at Nextmark is to drive down the transaction costs associated with buying and selling direct mail lists and other marketing programs.  In 7.12, we streamlined some of the key functions related to the Direct Marketing Exchange (DMAX)—a system that provides the ability for trading partners to electronically transmit mailing list orders using a standard protocol.  For more information about DMAX and how organizations can use it to reduce cost and increase business, refer to this post.

For more detail, check out the 7.12 release notes.

Tuck Named #1 Business School in the World

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Congratulations to our friends and neighbors at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business for being named the #1 business school in the world by The Economist.

Although our sample size is not as big as The Economist’s, I can say first hand that the “Tuckies” certainly deserve this recognition. The interns we’ve hired have all contributed at the executive level on day one.  This past summer Brian Ramirez has helped us to craft our strategic plan to serve digital agencies and made a powerful presentation to our board of directors.

I’m constantly impressed with how clever and hard-working they are. I’ve encountered hundreds of students over the past ten years through Scott Neslin‘s Database Marketing course. In that class, they use our media planning tools to solve cases.  It’s amazing to me how quickly they learn the basics and the nuances of the business. The media plans they develop will rival any pro’s.

To those of you in the business right now, you should either step up your game or hire them because here they come!

We’re hiring — Inside Account Manager

Friday, September 16th, 2011

We’re looking for an experienced Inside Account Manager to join our sales team.

This person will be responsible for establishing, developing, and managing relationships with website publisher, advertising agency, and media broker/management clients.

Click here for the full job description

Nominate your “Rising Star” for DMEF award

Monday, January 10th, 2011

dmef rising star - Allison Shaffer - Cisco

Do you have a “rising star” in your organization? The Direct Marketing Education Foundation is calling for nominations for their presigious Rising Stars Award.  This award “pays tribute to the most talented professionals 40 years of age and younger in the field of direct / interactive marketing.” Past winners include up and comers from Google, Cisco, DraftFCB, Rodal, Time Inc, Orbitz, and others.  The crystal award from Tiffany’s will be presented on June 21, 2011 at a gala event at Gotham Hall in New York City.

Visit the DMEF website to get more information and to nominate your rising star! (deadline is February 25, 2011)

DMA09 Visit NextMark #1930

Monday, October 12th, 2009

NextMark will be presenting and exhibiting at DMA09.

NextMark provides information and technology that powers the market for mailing lists, and makes it easier for you to buy mailing lists, sell mailing lists, and learn about mailing lists.


NextMark and marketing INFORMATION network (mIn) have been serving the list industry for 10 and 20 years respectively. Thousands of list brokers and list managers use NextMark every day to help their clients with effective and profitable new customer aquisition.

Visist our booth #1930.

Learn about the following products and services that make it easier for you to effectively reach your market.

Mailing Lists Search Tool (free):  search over 60,000 mailing lists from 700+ sources.

Professional list brokerage system: a fully intergrated online contact management, mailing list research, competitive analysis, and order processing system.

Contextually targeted list advertising:  place relevant list titles at the very top of the search results (over 60,000 lists) every time a broker or mailer runs a search.

Search engine optimized (SEO) data card web site:  integrate NextMark data cards with the list manager’s web site, and gets them noticed by search engines for better placement on Google, Yahoo and Bing.

Stop cold calling for list sales:  bid on leads by market category, capture more inquiries from your managed list titles, and calculate the ROI from start to finish.

Connecting data cards with data:  connect data cards with the source data at the service bureau for automated updates in real-time. Create high definition list profiles and enable counts directly from the data card.

Stop by and you’ll be glad you did!

Important Fact:  Experts agree at least 40% of direct marketing success depends on mailing lists.


5 Free Marketing Resources for Web Developers (SEO)

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

This page is for web developers looking for online marketing resources. Simply add one of the following free online tools to your website to be included in the directory.


1) Text:  Mailing Lists – search over 60,000 mailing lists using the mailing lists search tool.

HTML Code<A href=””>Mailing Lists</A> – search over 60,000 mailing lists using the mailing lists search tool.

2) Text:  Direct Mail Lists – search over 60,000 direct mail lists using the mailing lists search tool.

HTML Code<A href=””>Direct Mail Lists</A> – search over 60,000 direct mail lists using the mailing lists search tool.

3) Text:  List Broker – search the directory of marketing services providers to find a list broker.

HTML Code<A href=””>List Broker</A> – search the directory of marketing services providers to find a list broker.













4) Text:  Direct Marketing Glossary – hard to find definitions from the direct marketing glossary.

HTML Code<A href=””>Direct Marketing Glossary</A> – hard to find definitions from the direct marketing glossary.

Marketing Education











5) For NextMark and mIn clients only

For all NextMark clients, including those who publish their data cards at not charge.

Text:  All of our mailing lists are available on NextMark and marketing INFORMATION network (mIn).

HTML CodeAll of our <A href=”” target=_blank>mailing lists</A> are available on <A href=”” target=_blank>NextMark</A> and marketing INFORMATION network (<A href=”” target=_blank>mIn</A>).

Marketing Blog Directory

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Other marketing blogs:

blogarama - the blog directory

Marketing Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Blog Directory & Search engine

Blog Directory by Blog Flux



Blog Directory


Negev Direct Marketing


Grokodile Blogs in Hanover

World Travel Links – Worldwide travel and hotel related links listed on The Wise Directory.

Blogs Directory